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Not the one with the famous beach in Brazil, but this Copacabana is a small town in Bolivia located on a very unusual piece of land. The Lake Titicaca serves as border between Bolivia and Peru and Copacabana is an extension of land into that lake, a peninsula. What’s peculiar about this peninsula is that it’s connected to the mainland on the Peruvian side. So to go from any place in Bolivia to Copacabana it is necessary to either cross the lake or to go through Peruvian territory. As visitors, we did not have to worry about the geographical peculiarity. It has been resolved with some ferries capable of crossing busses full of people at Tiquina, a narrow point in Lake Titicaca between the peninsula and the Bolivian mainland.

Copacabana like La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, is located in the Andean plateau. The road between these two places was in very good condition when visited in 2001. Views from the road are breathtaking and there are restaurants along the way. The trip takes a couple of hours each way but you can stop both times to eat and take photos.

In the town of Copacabana one can see the sanctuary of the Lady of Copacabana. No one seems to know the entire story of this revelation of the Virgin Mary or why it is called the Lady of Copacabana. But, rumor has that she is the patron saint of the mighty Titicaca Lake. Some days of the week the image is placed looking toward the town and other days toward the lake.

In Copacabana you see the great devotion the people of Bolivia have for the Lady of Copacabana. It's said that every Saturday the town is crowded. Anyone that had acquired a car during the week would take it there to be blessed in front of the sanctuary. On Saturdays people from all over the Andean plateau, from places further away than La Paz, can be seen there.

Although Copacabana is a small town it is a colorful place and it is rather well set up for tourists. Beyond a doubt, the trip by road or water is worth it. The paintings found in the sanctuary are more than enough reason to go there. The trout served in the restaurants is also another good reason to go. It is an ideal spot to relax and or use as base for exploring the islands on the Titicaca Lake.

Along the southern shores of Lake Titicaca, the town of Copacabana is most well known for its Christian pilgrimage shrine of the Virgen de la Candelaria, also called the ‘Dark Virgin.’ Before the Christian use of the site there was an Inca Temple of the Sun, from which native pilgrims sailed to the sacred islands of the Sun and the Moon. According to Christian legends, in 1576 some Inca fisherman were caught in a raging storm upon Lake Titicaca. While praying for divine assistance, Mary appeared and led them to safety. In gratitude they decided to build a simple shrine and install a statue of the Madonna. The native Inca craftsman, Tito Yupanqui sculpted the image, made of dark wood and approximately four feet tall, in 1576. Placed in a chapel in 1583, which was enlarged in 1619, the statue soon became famous throughout Bolivia and Peru as a miracle causing icon.

The present cathedral, completed in 1805, is the most visited pilgrimage site in Bolivia and there are hugely attended festivals on the February 1-3, the saint’s day, May 23 (San Juan’s Day) and the first few days of August. The festival in August is extremely popular and Indian groups perform traditional dances accompanied by drums, flutes and pipes. During the festival periods a copy of the statue of Mary is adorned in colorful robes and precious jewels, and then taken on processions around the town of Copacabana. The statue is also taken by boat into Lake Titicaca in order to bless the waters. The original statue is never taken outside because of fears that great storms may arise. Called ‘La Coyeta’ by Aymara and Quechua Indians, the Virgen de la Candelaria is Bolivia’s patron saint. Some people associate the name Copacabana with nightclubs or the famous beach of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, but they derive their names from the Virgen of Copacabana who once saved some Brazilian fishermen from another violent storm on Lake Titicaca.

See more from someone who has bicycled there at: www.downtheroad.org



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